I’m currently enjoying a week of vacation, and one thing I’m taking time to do is to catch up on my reading. First on the list is Management 3.0 by Jurgen Appelo, and after reading through the first chapter I was reminded of a piece I published on LinkedIn in late 2015. Inspired (and, because I’m on vacation, looking to speed up my writing process a bit :)) I decided to update this piece with some new thoughts.
You can’t swing a dead kangaroo around LinkedIn, Twitter or the hypothetical “blogosphere” without hitting a post about how “leaders” are superior to “managers”(in fact you likely cannot swing a dead kangaroo at all, they are heavier than they look!). Managers makes you feel they are important, leaders make you feel YOU are important! Managers light a fire under you, leaders light a fire within you! A manager killed the dead kangaroo you’re swinging, but a leader will bring it back to life! Surely, all these clichés cannot be wrong? The world would be a much better place without managers… wouldn’t it?
While I’m strongly in the “leadership” camp as far as my personal style goes, I believe this dislike of managers and management have gone too far. Hype is a dangerous thing, and despite what the internet would have you believe, leadership without management can be a destructive force.
A useful definition of “leaders” and “managers”
If we are going to discuss leadership and management, we need to agree what these terms actually mean. For the formal definitions, I refer you to a dictionary of your choice, but for our purposes I have gone with the traits most people seem to ascribe the different styles:
- Rely on formal authority granted by rank and position.
- Motivates using “carrots and sticks” – financial incentives, promotions and possibly the threat of demotion or termination of employment.
- Has a “resource perspective”.
- Detail view.
- Process oriented.
- Rely on informal authority granted by charisma and people skills.
- Motivates using vision, trust and creating a feeling of belonging.
- Has a “human perspective”.
- Big picture view.
- Result oriented.
Leadership does come off sounding “nicer”, but I ask you to take a moment to consider how destructive leadership can be if it’s used improperly. A skilled leader using their skills for their own benefit without concern for their followers can cause chaos, and what worse is, they can do it without ever being accountable for what they’re doing. After all, they never gave an order, they were “…just saying…”. An informal leader working at cross purposes with the formal management can wreck a department or even a company!
When you read the description of managers, you probably thought about the petty tyrant who told you to do things because “they are the boss”, and treated you like a thing rather than a person. And the description of leaders bring to mind a person who made you feel as part of something bigger, who never bossed you around but saw you as a real human being. But there is nothing inherently bad about relying on rank; sometimes you need a clear chain of command because there isn’t enough time to convince everyone to go along with your suggestion. A manager who doesn’t abuse their authority but simply uses it to get the required work done, and who gives fair rewards for a work well done, isn’t a bad person to work for. A benevolent manager with no leadership skill might be frustrating to work for, but so would a benevolent leader with no management skill.
Why you need both
The benefit of good management is efficiency. The benefit of good leadership is direction. Doing the wrong things very efficiently is a great waste, but going in the right direction slower than you have to is also wasteful.
A good leader will make you feel motivated to work, appreciated for what you do and give you opportunities to grow. They will keep everyone pulling in the same direction, pursuing a shared goal. A good manager will make sure you have the tools needed to do do your job, that there is enough money to pay your salary, and that you have the opportunity for training and education to handle new challenges. A manager with no leadership skill will become autocratic but a leader without management skill risks becoming “all talk”, painting a great picture but lacking the ability to deliver what they need to. In a worst case, such a leader can become manipulative, using the trust they build as leverage to further their own goals.
Different organisations will need different balances between leadership and management, as will different positions. In the C-suite, you will need 80% leadership or more; at that level you are paid to be a visionary and thought leader, and you have people under you to manage the details. Some startups are all leadership, and people work there because they believe in the vision (and/or because they hope for that big payoff). Some heavily regulated industries require strong management skills at all levels because doing the right things in the wrong way means you get fined or lose your permit to operate. It should be noted that I disagree with Jurgen here, as he considers “management” to be more important at higher levels, though this may be because we use different definitions of leadership and management.
The bosses most of us will work for will have to balance the challenges of leadership and management, because we want to be motivated and encouraged but we also want steady pay and a sense of stability. It’s not easy. So the next time you work with (or for) a good manager, let them know you appreciate it.
Have you ever had to deal with a great leader that was a terrible manager? Or do you have different experiences in the need to balance management and leadership? Let me know!